Harvey Norman accused of selling timber from forests where koalas are threatened


HARVEY NORMAN, the Australian-owned international retail chain with outlets in Ireland, has been accused of selling timber flooring made from trees felled in the forests of New South Wales, where koalas are “threatened with extinction”.

Environment research and campaign group Markets for Change published a report yesterday showing that Harvey Norman buys its timber flooring from forests recognised as critical habitats for koalas and then sells it as part of its “Naturally Australian” range.

The company, which has 230 outlets in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, Croatia, Slovenia and Ireland, said it “sells only furniture and flooring products where the timber has been sourced legally from well-managed sustainable and renewable forests”.

A spokeswoman for Harvey Norman Ireland said its timber was “certified independently”, and added that its own outlets in the Republic and Northern Ireland did not sell “any timber flooring products, nor does it sell any furniture made from Australian timbers”.

But Markets for Change has used the findings of its investigation to call on Harvey Norman and other flooring retailers to stop buying such timber and “urgently reform their procurement policies to meet customer demand for genuinely sustainable products”.

Its report, Naturally Australian Habitat Destruction, documents how the investigation tracked trees logged from at Boambee State Forest – a critical koala habitat – to manufacturing mills operated by Boral, which then supply Harvey Norman stores in Australia.

The logging was carried out by Forests New South Wales, a publicly owned company – similar to Coillte in Ireland – that claims to “sustainably manage more than two million hectares of native and planted forests ... to internationally recognised standards”.

As the largest manager of forests in New South Wales, the company describes itself as “a major force in the state’s timber industry”, which contributes nearly $1 billion (€815 million) to Australia’s economy each year – much of it earned by exports.

Koala ecologist Steve Phillips took the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on a tour of the Boambee forest. “This area, to the best of our knowledge, is probably one of the three most important koala centres on the east coast of Australia,” he said.

Louise Morris, of Markets for Change, said customers needed to feel confident that they were “not being misled about the true story behind the products they buy”.

“There is nothing natural about the threat of extinction for the koala from industrial logging,”she said.

She cited a recent report by the University of Sydney – featured in Nature, the international journal of science – that “shows quite clearly the role that international trade plays in threatening endangered species through the destruction and trade of their habitat”.

Ms Morris said the Markets for Change report provided “damning evidence” to support tougher measures by the Australian government to save the koala – a marsupial native to Australia – from extinction, and was also “an overdue wake-up call for all retailers”.

She said Harvey Norman “has an opportunity to show leadership ... by refusing to aid and abet the extinction of koalas” and commit to using plantation timber only.

“Customers will vote with their wallets if a product is being sold at the expense of the natural environment.”

The revelations about logging in New South Wales come after decades of destruction of internationally significant native forests in Tasmania, “with the centuries-old wood sold to Japan and China often to make cheap, disposable products”, according to Markets for Change.